Nearly 74 years after flying over Normandy, France in 1944 during D-Day, Coleman Fait’s C-47 Model A made a stop in Brownwood on its way to an airshow in Lakeland, Florida.
Fait made his first stop on a cross-country journey from Chino, California to Florida and took advantage of the city’s amenities during his brief stay before setting off for the Sun and Fun International Fly-In Expo.
“This is the first stop for fuel and we’re going to see if we can make it the rest of the way,” Fait said. “… Your gas operator here advertises in a deal that a lot of pilots use. We saw the gas prices were good so we stopped here and got 680 gallons of gas.”
Fait said his C-47 Model A left the factory in early 1943 and saw its first combat at the Invasion of Normandy.
“It’s first real action was on D-Day. It hauled troops on D-Day and they jumped out of it at 2:30 that morning,” Fait said. “… It flew that whole week carrying troops, hauling wounded out and bringing in supplies.”
Fait estimated 1,000 of the original 10,000 C-47s produced are still operational with half of those flying in the U.S. He attributed their longevity to a mixture of engineering and enthusiasm.
“In the aviation world, if you ask any pilot, this is near the top of their list of airplanes to enjoy,” Fait said. “They’re easy to acquire, but hard to keep flying … It was designed in the mid ’30s. They did not know as much about engineering as they do today so to be on the safe side they overbuilt these. This is the brick house of the air. They’re pretty tough.”
Fait said it takes two pilots to operate a C-47 and he prefers to have a four-person crew, including his son Coleman Fait Jr. for a co-pilot, a standby pilot and an assistant for takeoff and landing preparation.
“There are a few things a solo pilot would have a difficult time doing. Operating the gears is a little complicated in this thing,” Fait said.
After D-Day, Fait’s C-47 also participated in Operation Varsity in Wesel, Germany and Operation Market Garden in The Netherlands and Germany before being decommissioned and put into private use. Fait called it America’s first airliner and considers the C-47 the backbone of the early U.S. airline industry.
“This really was the first airliner,” Fait said. “It made it back after the war and has been a corporate plane for most of its life. We just painted it back to its D-Day colors last winter.”